With the All-Star break at hand, we’ve already completed that portion of the season often referred to as “the first half.” That’s a demonstrably poor choice of phrasing, given that teams played their 81st games weeks ago, but we’ll roll with it. The break offers a chance to take a breath and take stock. It offers a moment to gain perspective, just before the trade deadline period gets underway in earnest and the postseason races truly heat up.
So, it seems an opportune moment to look back at some of the results we’ve seen to this point of the season. We’ll focus here on team-level results, rather than unexpected outcomes for individual players, though of course the two are often intertwined.
- Densely packed NL West: Okay, this isn’t outwardly the most exciting choice. But it’s rather interesting to see that the phenomenon we observed at the start of June — a densely packed division race — has persisted to the cusp of the deadline. The Dodgers were supposed to run away with things, but simply have not. That means that all the teams involved (that is, the Dodgers, D-Backs, Rockies, and Giants) will need to treat the summer trade period as one that could make the difference between claiming or falling short of a division title.
- Historically bad Orioles & Royals: I’m sure there’ll be some who’ll laugh at the idea that this is a surprise. But both teams made reasonably significant MLB investments over the winter in hopes of contending or, at least, remaining reasonably competitive. Instead, they both enter the break with sub-.300 winning percentages. In the post-war era, only three teams have finished a season winning less than three of every ten games. What’s scary is that both the Baltimore and Kansas City rosters will likely only get worse over the next few weeks.
- Upside-down NL East: The Phillies and Braves have risen somewhat earlier than expected, just as the Nationals hit a few rough patches. This race could be a fascinating one to watch, particularly if the Philadelphia and Atlanta organizations decide to make aggressive mid-season additions and/or promotions.
- Miserable Mets: The overall picture in the NL East is all the more surprising when you throw in the fact that the Mets have collapsed to the point that they have less wins to this point than the Marlins, despite those two organizations’ divergent offseason approaches. Another rental sell-off is inevitable. It’s still anyone’s guess whether the front office troika will end up overseeing a more significant sell-off.
- Dominant Red Sox: It’s not at all surprising that the Boston organization is winning a lot of ballgames. But this club has stood out even against the other top teams in the league, entering the break 4.5 games ahead of the paces of the Yankees and Astros. The Red Sox have 68 wins, while no National League club has more than 55.
- Upper middle class M’s & A’s: The stratification of the American League is a notable development in its own right. While many anticipated some super-team formations around the game, it really hasn’t worked out that way at all in the N.L. As interesting as the wide gulf itself, perhaps, is the fact that the Mariners and (especially) the Athletics find themselves on the “well over .500” side. Both entered the season with real hopes of fielding winning rosters, true, but it’s tough to imagine that either organization realistically expected to be 19 (M’s) or even 13 (A’s) games over .500 come mid-July.
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